The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Oil selloff gets court go-ahead

New Delhi, March 24: The government’s move to divest its stake in the two oil majors — Hindustan Petroleum Corporation and Bharat Petroleum Corporation — will be subject to the judgement of the Supreme Court on a batch of petitions challenging the disinvestment.

At the same time, as there was no interim stay order on the disinvestment, the government might go ahead with the move. A division bench of Chief Justice V. N. Khare and Justice S. B. Sinha indicated that the government could go-ahead with the disinvestment move in BPCL and HPCL. However, after hearing the petitions by Federation of All India Petroleum Traders and others, the bench made it clear that the move would be subject to its judgement.

The court adjourned hearings by four weeks and observed that the pendency of the petitions “shall not be construed as stay on the disinvestment process”.

Petitioners’ counsel Salman Khurshid contended that there was a difference between disinvestment in Bharat Aluminium Corporation (Balco) and in the oil sector. He told the court that Balco was a government enterprise from the beginning whereas the oil majors were privately owned companies taken over by the government.

Solicitor-general Kirit Raval objected to Khurshid contending that a “material fact” was suppressed by the petitioners.

Raval told the court that the petitioners had first approached the Delhi High Court, but withdrew the petition on grounds that the Supreme Court’s judgement on the Balco disinvestment issue came in their way.

In the Balco case, the apex court had made it clear that courts “normally” should not intervene in the economic policy of the government unless grave danger to public interest was established. It had also made it clear that disinvestment was in tune with the changing times.

Raval said this to the court to contend that the judgement in the Balco case covered the issue the petitioners raised in the current petition challenging disinvestment in oil sector.

Khurshid countered Raval contending that the counsel before the high court had expressed his “personal view” and the important difference between Balco case and oil sector disinvestment case was not made out before the court.

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